Maggie Gallagher

America's most televised parents of multiples made it official: They are splitting up. Kate minus Jon makes nine.

Yes, the children will suffer. But no doubt it will be good for ratings.

Well, there are worse tragedies than divorce, bigger problems in the world than the things that led Jon and Kate to break up their own family, as the headlines remind us. Even as Kate and Jon called it quits, a young Iranian woman named Neda captured the fickle attention of the world for her simple and defiant act of courage. Some things are worth dying for.

What kind of freedom will they die for in Iran? Political freedom -- the freedom to vote, to assemble, to speak? Economic freedom -- the freedom to produce, to create? Are these freedoms separable from the freedom to declare oneself free of obligation -- the freedom to divorce, to break up your own family? Is there some vision of human freedom that does not lead to the triumph of desire over duty, of aspiration over commitment?

This weekend, as Jon and Kate made their big announcement, I attended the 50th wedding anniversary of a close family member, who had married in India. The wedding was arranged. One of the children, making the toast, asked:

"How does a marriage survive 50 years? Here is what I have learned: Meet your wife on your wedding day. Surround yourself with family and friends. Wait."

I understood what he meant. I'm asked by the young, "How do you avoid divorce?" The first and most important answer is: Don't go down to the courthouse. If neither of you does, there won't be any divorce.

Oh, they follow up, "What we really mean is 'How do we create a happy marriage?'" That's a noble goal, but really a different question.

As we watch, the world is dividing between people who really do marry, in the core meaning of the word, and people who have weddings to celebrate their good fortune in enjoying a happy and loving relationship. The world is dividing between people who commit and people who merely celebrate commitment. Every divorce in our own circle -- or our faux family on TV -- asks us to ask anew the question: What makes the difference?

Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.